The Post-Journal

John Newman, Babe Ruth of the PONY is Living Legend Here as Homer Hitter

John Henry Newman (family name Nyman), who has become a legend in these parts as did Babe Ruth on a world-wide scale because of his ability to hit a baseball farther than anyone else, thinks his PONY League homer mark, which has stood for a decade, will be broken some day.

But Big Jawn, now a city bus driver, adds a quick rider - "if it is, it will be be in either Olean or Hornell. Those fences are too short."

Few people know it, but Newman actually holds three home run records.

He belted 33 for a record while with Owensboro, Ky., of the Kitty League in 1939, hit 29 to better the PONY mark in 1941 and the following year hit 30 to fracture his own record.

He won the PONY batting title both seasons with .358 and .353 averages.

It took some doings to get those 30 circuit blows of '42 in the books, however. Somewhere along the line, the league's official scorer had dropped three homers giving the big fence-buster credit for 27 when the season closed. Several years later the writer launched a checkup, after Newman insisted he had hit 30, and sure enough, the official reports, then with the Elias Bureau in New York, failed to check out with box score accounts and three more circuit smashes were dug up. Today, they are part of the official records.

John Henry Newman got his first taste of professional baseball with Terre Haute in the old Three I League in 1935. John was born in Chicago and was becoming quite a personage on the Windy City sandlots because of his ability to lay the wood to the baseball.

Milt Galatzer, the former Cleveland outfielder, spotted him one day and soon had him under contract and on his way to Terre Haute. But the league folded and Newman returned home, remaining out of baseball until 1937, when he returned to Terre Haute.

Walt Houck, who had replaced Walt Burwell as skipper at Terre Haute, wanted Newman to shift his hitting stance. Houck had been some shakes as a hitter in his day and he felt the big Chicago belter could enhance his long ball with a style change.

As happens so often, it didn't work.

"Danged if he didn't have me down to about .219 in a short while then he up and released me," Newman laughs today, rancor over the incident long forgotten.

The little pink slip proved to be a blessing in disguise, for John promptly called his old skipper, Burwell, who then had the Rock Island, Ill., club.

"Report right away and hit any way you want to," Burwell told him.

The fold-up "hants" continued to dog Big Jawn, for Rock Island also called it quits with Newman hitting .355, robbing him of enough trips to the plate to win the batting crown, although his average led the league.

Burwell went to Minneapolis as a coach and took Newman along, but hard luck hung right with him. The Millers had a pretty solid garden combine composed of Carl Reynolds in left, Stan Spence in center and Dusty Cook in right. John was being used as a pinch hitter when he broke his leg sliding.

The busted gam was ready in 1939, however, and he was shipped to Rocky Mount, S.C., of the Piedmont League, where he was hitting .319 when he was traded to Spartanburg of the Sally.

An umpire was the big boy's next barrier.

John threw his bat down one day in one of those mild fits of anger all ball players display at times. It hit the ump right on his toe.

"Everything would have been alright," John explains, still chortling at the memory, "If I hadn't laughed. But it sure looked funny, him bouncing up and down on one foot, holding the other one and howling like a coon dog. So I just busted right out laughing and that busted me right out of baseball."

He was suspended for a year. The penalty was soon lifted, but John was told he could not play in the Sally anymore and the club handed him his release.

A guy who can powder the ball isn't idle for long, so Newman headed for Owensboro, Ky., lush with an oil boom and an important key in the Kitty League.

Newman went right to work at his trade, blasting out 33 homers for an all-time league record, and picking up his top baseball thrill in the all-star game.

"I hit two homers and a double and drove in six runs that day for the biggest kick I ever got out of one ball game because down there the leading team (that was us) played the all-stars selected from the rest of the loop."

Newman was with three clubs in 1940 – one of them was Niagara Falls of the PONY. He was sold to Greenville, Miss., to start the "traveling" year, and then was traded to Winston-Salem. About that time, Harry Bisgeier of the Niagara Falls club was looking for a hitting outfielder. Someone tipped him off to the giant from Chicago who could behead an infielder with a line drive, so John would up in the 'Falls livery.

When the Niagara Falls franchise was shifted in July of 1940, John Newman arrived on the Jamestown scene.

Stories of the big fellow's hitting are legend – talk baseball anywhere in the PONY and it's like speaking of Ruth to an old American Leaguer. Sooner or later a new one about his prowess at the plate is certain to be spun.

But John himself says the hardest ball he ever hit was at Bradford in 1941 – a line drive that cleared the centerfield wall at the scoreboard, a 395-foot smash.

He hit one over the left-center light tower at Municipal Stadium and a line-drive into the scoreboard (405 feet) against Buffalo in an exhibition.

There's an amusing story associated with that scoreboard carom.

Al Vincent, who had the Buffalo club in '42, was going over the ground rules with Greg Mulleavy, the Falcons' skipper.

"If a ball is hit against the scoreboard, it is a home run," Mulleavy explained.

"Hell, man, forget it," Vincent cut in. "No one is going to hit a ball to that board on the fly."

A few innings later, Newman knocked a numeral right out of the board with a line smash. Vincent refused to come out of the dugout the rest of the game.

But hard as he could belt the ball, one pitcher had John's number. He was Jack Heller, a right-hander with Bradford.

"Everyone else in the league had good days against that fellow," John will tell you today. "But when I'd come up he actually laughed. I even tried to bat left-handed and didn't do a bit better. He had a slow semi-side-arm with a good sinker and I couldn't do a thing with it."

One day Newman finally connected against Heller. It felt good and Big Jawn let out a triumphant war whoop – "It's about time" – he shouted at Heller. But alas, the shortstop leaped high in the air and made the best grab of his career on the liner that was headed for the fence.

Newman went into the service in '43, served with a tank unit in the South Pacific and returned to pick up the baseball threads as manager of the 1946 Hamilton club. He had the Cards two years, finally stepping out of baseball for good.

"I always told my mother I'd play ball until I found a town I liked," he explains. "I've found it – Jamestown."

John is married with no children. His wife is the former Myrtle Smith, an Owensboro girl – "a red-headed, left-handed Irishwoman," John laughs.

The big fellow's hand was back in baseball last season in a minor sense. He coached one of the Little League units in the newly formed circuit for small fry.

One day John was called on to give a youngster some instruction in hitting. Naturally, Ed Lesser went on to become the home run champ of the LL circuit.

The additional financial assistance of the community is critical to the success of the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame.
We gratefully acknowledge these individuals and organizations for their generous support.